Barney Kulok, Building @Nicole Klagsbrun

JTF (just the facts): A total of 23 black and white photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung in the main gallery space and the smaller back room. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2011 or 2012. The prints are sized either 20×28 or 29×40 (or reverse) and are available in editions of 6+4AP. There are 12 prints in the small size and 11 prints in the large size on view. A monograph of this body of work was recently published by Aperture (here) and is available from the gallery for $80. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: Just prior to his death, the famed architect Louis Kahn designed a memorial park for Franklin D. Roosevelt, fittingly to be placed on the then recently renamed Roosevelt Island here in New York. Nearly forty years later, that park has finally been built and is scheduled to open to the public later this month. During its recent construction, Barney Kulok made in-progress photographs of the site, the rough chaos of building pared down to richly dark black and white pictures, full of attention to texture and surface.

At first glance, Kulok’s photographs feel like a throwback to the early days of Callahan, Siskind and Metzker, where light and shadow were used explore the abstraction of simple city forms. A squiggly bent wire and its shadow, the dense black shadow of a hammer and chisel, a tight mesh pattern on a white wall, Kulok’s images seem cut from this same Modernist cloth, albeit in larger contemporary sizes. Several of the works linger over Kahn’s smooth geometries, playing with contrasts in tonality of edging and in finished/unfinished materials: a rectangular block in white offset by a dark trapezoidal shadow, perfect cubes of grey granite thrown haphazardly over the finished cobblestone walkway, a circular pile of sandy joint filler against the graph paper squares of the granite, alternating stripes of black shadow on a concrete stair interrupted by a short plank of wood. Construction debris is found to be surprisingly elegant: a leaning 2×4, a brick plumb line, a bent corner hinge, a sponge, they all become quiet still lifes when seen in tactile isolation.

In general, I found it surprisingly satisfying to see that well-executed black and white can still be relevant to the contemporary discussion. These photographs are crisp and defined without seeming overly old school or derivative. The subject matter lent itself well to a high contrast study, and Kulok has delivered a set of images that are graceful and luxurious.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The smaller 20×28 prints are $4500 and the larger 29×40 prints are $6000. Kulok’s work has only just begun to enter the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Barney Kulok, Nicole Klagsbrun Gallery, Aperture

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